Book ReviewsSteven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land, A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2003. 126 pages. $14.99. ISBN 080241121-5
Occasionally a new book on preaching demands our fullest attention. Steven Lawson’s Famine in the Land is one of these. If you are a pastor, you may be thinking, “With all the books about preaching that I already have on my shelves, why do I need another?” The answer is: because this book will go straight to your heart and reignite a passion for the primary task to which God has called you—expository preaching. Lawson’s book has done for me what John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching did ten years ago. It brought me before God in worship for the gift of His Word and the immeasurable privilege of pulpit ministry.
Written with deep conviction, this thin book (126 pages) is comprised of material that originally appeared as four sequential articles in Bibliotheca Sacra. However, this is not merely an academic treatment of the subject, but rather a passionate call for clear exposition toward the goal of Christ-like application.
What also makes this book unique is its expository approach to the subject of Bible exposition. In other words, each chapter is actually exposition about exposition. In the first chapter, the author unveils the priority of biblical preaching as modeled in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. He writes, “Acts 2:42–47 headlines the priority of biblical preaching. The apostles’ teaching ignited this first congregation and it will do the same today in churches that are committed to biblical exposition” (50).
Chapter Two is an exposition of the book of Jonah that compels us to be courageous messengers. Lawson contends, “One God-called man armed with one God-sent message, committed to one God-prescribed method—preaching—is always sufficient for any situation” (62).
In the third chapter, the reader is drawn into the post-exilic ministry of Ezra, which serves as a challenging model of personal obedience and Word-saturated teaching that grows out of diligence in the pastor’s study. This, Lawson says, is the defining mark of all true expositors.
In the fourth and last chapter, the author explains Paul’s clarion call to young Timothy to be “absorbed” in the work of preaching, an all-consuming preoccupation (1 Timothy 4:13–16). He writes, “Biblical preaching is like giving birth to a baby every week or sometimes, twice or three times a week, giving that great pain is associated with the delivery of both…. The rigors of exposition drains the entire man—mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually” (p 120).
I urge my fellow pastors to get a copy of this book as soon as possible and then block out half a day early in the week, go to the local library, or some other quiet place, turn off your cell phone, and read and meditate and pray for Holy-Spirit-transformation to begin in your pulpit. This is the need of the hour, for the sad reality is that there is a famine in our land. ¦
Peter Grainger, Firm Foundations: 150 Examples of how to Structure a Sermon, Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2003, pb. 256 pages. $17.99. ISBN 1-85792-678-1
This book is primarily a compilation of sermon outlines from Peter Grainger, the current senior pastor of Charlotte’s Chapel, Edinburgh. Outlines of sermons from 14 different series covering various portions of Scripture are included. The series range from consecutive chapters (e.g., Revelation 1–3, Psalm 120–134) to thematically related passages (“Encounters with Jesus,” selections from the Gospels), to character studies (e.g., John the Baptist, David) to complete books (e.g., John’s Gospel, 2 Corinthians). The breadth of coverage is a striking element of the book giving ideas about approaching a vast range of genres in various ways, all explicitly expositional. The opening notes for each series also list commentaries and studies which the author has found particularly helpful. The book concludes with a sample sermon, a full manuscript of a sermon on Revelation 2:1–7.
In addition to the bulk of the book, Grainger begins with a six page essay entitled, “Preparing to Preach” where he lays out his basic approach to sermon preparation. He gives good basic advice and is careful to note that there may be various ways to approach the task within the same theological framework. He is clear in his call for exegetical, expositional preaching.
Perhaps the most endearing part of the book to this reviewer was the Foreword by Ian Balfour, the current Secretary of the Church (a position of significant lay leadership in Scottish Baptist churches). In this foreword Mr. Balfour relates the history of the church tracing the history of committed biblical exposition. This history is inspiring as one considers the influence of this church through the years. This account alone is enough to inspire us to uphold the place of lively expositional preaching.
In the end, I would say this book is interesting but not a must buy. The greatest value in my opinion is its testimony to a blessed expositional ministry. I do not find sermon outlines themselves terribly helpful in sermon preparation, and I encourage preachers to spend their time digging for themselves. As a help at the final stages of sermon preparation, the usefulness of this book would be enhanced by including in the Table of Contents not only the series title but the passages of Scripture which are covered. ¦
Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, pb. 226 pages. ISBN 0-85151-901-6
It is always very profitable to read any book by Iain Murray. This one is no exception. Every minister or Christian worker should read everything he has ever written. Accordingly, I could wish that every preacher, pastor, missionary, and Christian worker could have this newest title placed in their hands.
The Old Evangelicalism consists of addresses Mr. Murray gave at various conferences around the world over the last thirty years. Particularly, the content that made up these messages consists of a number of fundamental truths that deal with doctrinal and experimental subjects related to the great themes of salvation and the gospel.
What truths are we speaking of? Murray says, “Sin, regeneration, justification by Christ’s righteousness, the cross and the love of God, assurance of salvation—these are the truths that once thrilled churches and changed nations. They are the message that ‘turned the world upside down.’ Yet where evangelicalism continues to affirm these truths, without such results, it is often assumed that she must have new needs that cannot be met without something new. Hence the call for change, and such words as ‘mere doctrine is not enough’.”
No one in our generation writes on these subjects with any more depth and clarity of understanding that Mr. Murray. His help is simply superb for both ministers and Christians in general to understand Christian truth in its splendor and richness.
Chapter one is entitled, “Preaching and Awakening: Facing the Main Problem in Evangelism.” The main problem, argues Murray, is the lack of both the fear of God and conviction of sin. Quoting from the 1859 revival in Scotland: “The one deep dominant note was an overpowering sense of sin.” Murray convinces the reader that “times of revival are invariably times of widespread spiritual concern and that concern is ever related to a recovery of the fear of God.” This is surely greatly missing in our modern evangelism and gospel message. Who preaches regularly to produce the fear of God in the hearts of people? The initial need in evangelism is not to win acceptance for Christ, or as is said in America, get someone to make a decision for Christ. Rather, the goal ought to be preaching for the results of divine regeneration and conviction of sin. It is preaching to the heart, preaching to the conscience, Murray argues, that produces true conviction and brings about true conversion.
The book continues to take up the further next two subjects of true conversion and Christ our Righteousness—the grand doctrine of justification. The doctrine of conversion is addressed in light of the preaching and ministry of C. H. Spurgeon. The doctrine of true and biblical conversion has been all but lost in the modern church world. And the doctrinal content of conversion is strange language to many professing Christians in our day. Spurgeon, commenting on the nature of conversion, said: “In all true conversions there are points of essential agreement; there must be in all a penitent confession of sin and a looking to Jesus for forgiveness of sin, and there must be a real change of heart, such as shall affect the entire after life, and where these essential points are not to be found, there is no genuine conversion.” Murray proceeds in this chapter to unfold the true nature of regeneration, repentance, and saving faith, setting forth also the argument that true preachers ought to preach for conversion, that this ought to be their goal in gospel preaching.
In taking up the subject of justification, the heart of the gospel is addressed here. The need for justification is seen in the truth that all men are in darkness and lack true righteousness. The gospel then shows us why the righteousness of God is indeed good news. The doctrine of imputation is the central issue in justification, even from the Old Testament era.
The final three chapters deal with several edifying and important subjects, the first being what Murray calls “The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love.” Preaching the cross truly, doctrinally, and the work of redemption is what is desperately needed in our day. But it is not enough to say, “Jesus died for you.” In our generation, people are either bored by the words or they mean absolutely nothing to them. The preaching of Christ crucified with passion, accuracy, and doctrinal clarity is what is most needed in modern preaching. The depth of the love of God both generally and specifically for all believers is at the forefront of the gospel message.
Murray then asks the question, “What Can We Learn From John Wesley”? He then proceeds to show us that there are wonderful things that every Christian can learn from Wesley. Murray argues that there are some basic things we learn.
First, Wesley has something to teach us on the relationship between true Christian zeal for the gospel and church government, procedures, and church practices. Secondly, in Wesley and Methodism we are taught that it is the persuasion of the love of God for men makes churches truly evangelistic. Thirdly, Wesley challenges us on the focus of our doctrine of sanctification, that is, our view of holiness and how the believer attains it and increases in it.
Perhaps the best or the most important chapter in the book very well may be chapter six on the doctrine of assurance. True preaching and accurate teaching on this doctrine is sadly lacking today. Very few Christians have a solid understanding of biblical assurance and how it relates to saving faith. It is here that Murray may provide his best help. The Holy Spirit in the work of assurance is wonderfully dealt with here, as is the true biblical basis of assurance. The possession of salvation and the possession of assurance of salvation are two different things and the difference is very important to understand.
The final chapter deals with Christian unity and church unity. The issue of denominations and unity is addressed, and the chapter shows that church unity and Christian unity are not one and the same thing, and that Christian unity is a bigger and more important issue than church unity.
Overall, this book would be immense help and encouragement to every Christian who would take the time to read it carefully, especially helpful to those involoved in the ministry of the gospel. They will find here a gold mine of truth, clarity, and help in understanding and communicating old truths for a new spiritual awakening. And what could be more important than that? ¦
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 2: God and Creation, edited by John Bolt and translated by John Vriend, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2004, 697 pages. $49.99
What a magnificent achievement! Here we get the second volume of Bavinck’s monumental dogmatic theology in 4 volumes. Although this appears more than a hundred years after the Dutch first edition, it is amazing how up to date are the presentation and discussion. In the early 1940s, I discovered Bavinck’s great work in Harvard Divinity School Library and I decided to learn Dutch in order to have a ready access to this treasure. This has richly rewarded me for more than 60 years, and I can honestly say that it has been to me an inspiration and a challenge throughout my career as professor of systematic theology. One feature that has particularly benefited me is the remarkable serenity that characterizes Bavinch throughout his work; he is so thoroughly grounded in his biblical understanding and his Reformed position that he does not need to caricature those from whom he differs but he makes a fair presentation and criticism of their position. This is the more remarkable because he lived and worked in a nation that has been often embroiled in bitter theological discussions and fights, sometimes on minor points.
This volume includes a new translation of The Doctrine of God (William Hendricksen, translator, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, l951. 407 pages). The footnotes and source references which were omitted in this earlier translation are now included at the foot of relevant pages. A brief introduction and summary by editor John Bolt is prefixed to each of the seven chapters dealing with the doctrine of God.
The second part of the volume reproduces the volume In the Beginning (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. 291 pages).
Thus the whole second Dutch volume of Bavinck’s dogmatics is now available in English in a form that matches volume 1, published in 2003. The editors encourage us to look for the publication of volumes 3 and 4 in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
A fine general bibliography and indices of persons, Bible text discussion, and subjects treated, not available in Dutch until volume 4, do now enhance this edition.
With respect to the biblical foundation of any doctrine, I doubt whether there exists any systematic theology that can approach the number of texts cited. If a complete index is to appear in volume 4, I venture to say that it will occupy at least 50 pages.
Even if you have to buy it without a discount, you will get more than your money’s worth in this volume.